Ill. Toll Authority approves fee hikes

August 25, 2011 4:12:00 PM PDT
The Illinois Toll Authority voted Thursday to almost double what it charges people to use its roadways.

Anyone with an I-PASS will see their basic toll jump from 40 to 75 cents starting next year. Drivers using cash to pay tolls will be paying twice what I-PASS users pay.

Before the 7-1 vote, the board heard more testimony favoring the increase as a way to jumpstart the region's economy.

"This means careers for us. This is not just about a job. This means that a woman has the ability to take care of her family," said Pamela Berryhill, Women in Trades.

"If it's going to create more work for everybody else, there's more disposable income at the end of the day," said Jim Conally, Laborer's Union.

But critics say most of the favorable testifiers at 15 recent public hearings represented labor unions or contractors who stood to benefit from the $12 billion the toll hike would generate to rebuild and expand the system.

"They want more money to feed it to the big contractors, the big engineering companies at the taxpayers' expense during a recession and it's unethical," said Christina Tobin of the Taxpayers United of America.

On January 1, the basic I-PASS toll will rise from 40 cents to 75 cents. The cash toll will go up from 80 cents to $1.50.

Ken Dalton of Des Plaines, an I-PASS user at the Hinsdale Oasis, had no idea an increase was in the works.

"Government spending is out of control. Somebody has to compensate for it and it's gonna be the users or the taxpayers," he said.

"All we could capture were the number of people who came to the public hearings and who responded on our website," said Paula Wolfe, tollway board chairman

Bill Morris of Grayslake was the only board member to vote against the toll increase. He said that doubling the cash rate would be especially hard on lower income drivers without credit cards.

"For people who don't have that where-with-all it could be as much as $3 or $4 a day, which is a pretty hefty price to pay," Morris said. "The one thing I learned in politics is that you want to control the message. The message was well controlled the environment was well controlled, the audiences were well-packed."

Also before the vote, a trucking company spokesman warned that higher tolls could force more traffic onto freeways and side streets, costing other government units.

"The Taxpayers United of America believe there should be no hike whatsoever during these hard economic times," Tobin said.

The Illinois Tollway Authority has issued reports saying that Illinois toll roads are the third least expensive in the country right now. Chairwoman Wolfe told ABC7 that the increase moves the state only into the mid-range in terms of per toll cost.

The Chicago Federation of Labor estimates the $12 billion capital program will create 120,000 jobs over the next 15 years.

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